An Ancient Forest of Giant Trees—and Bigfoot… The Red Butte Wilderness: Part I

Peggy checks out a large sugar pine along the Butte Fork Creek that runs through the heart of the Red Buttes Wilderness. Eventually the creek empties into the Applegate River that runs by our house.

 

A friend once asked (with a grin), why I believed in flying saucers. “Because I saw one,” was my tart reply. And I did. A saucer-shaped object flew into a cloud in Sacramento going one direction and then flew out going another. It accelerated rapidly and disappeared in a couple of seconds. It was enough proof for me.

“And what about Bigfoot?” he followed up, his smile widening to Cheshire proportions. My response was different. I smiled back.

“Because the world can use a little magic; and it’s fun.”

I’m not anti-science or scientific proof. Quite the opposite. Of the magazines we subscribe to, Scientific American is the one I read cover to cover. Religiously. Some 70 books on science grace our library shelves. (I just counted them.) They range from Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe to Richard Feynman’s The Pleasure of Finding Things Out. I’ll confess here, however, that the far-out edge of science looks a lot like magic to me.  Imagine entangled photons mirroring each other’s actions simultaneously over hundreds and even billions of miles. Or how about parallel universes existing side by side on and on to infinity?

Scientifically speaking, however, Bigfoot hardly has a leg to stand on, or a foot, even a big, hairy one. Blurry photos, a few hairs, footprints and little else constitute proof. There’s not even a body or bones. If Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, or Yeti, or any of the other names the species goes by around the world exist, they must have an Einstein-level genius at camouflage, hiding and misdirection.

What exists are numerous sightings, often collaborated by other people. A close relative of mine, who prefers to remain un-named, recently told me that one of the big fellows had run across a logging road in front of him up near Oregon’s McKenzie River in the early 70s. He’d never said anything about the incident. I didn’t get his reticence. Had it been me, I would have been screaming the news from the top of Mt. Hood. But he was a conservative businessman at the time, working in a conservative industry, which is something I’ve never been accused of. It is such sightings, often by responsible, sober-type people, that provide hope for Bigfoot’s existence, the frosting on the magical cake.

The Red Buttes Wilderness, located on the remote, northern edge of California in the Siskiyou Mountains, is prime Bigfoot country. We can see the Buttes from our house in southern Oregon, some 10 miles away as the crow flies. We went backpacking in the area three years ago and decided to go again last week. Giant red cedars, sugar cone pines, white pines and Douglas firs dominate the area. They’re the type of trees that make the logging industry salivate. They would have been cut down decades ago except for the difficulty of getting them out. Now they are protected in one of America’s rare virgin forests. If I were Bigfoot, it’s a place I would certainly want to live.

The Red Butte Mountains of Northern California and Southern Oregon.

The Red Butte Mountains as they appear from our patio.

The world’s only Bigfoot trap is located about five miles from where we live. A miner was once hired to build a cabin beneath the trap and given a tranquilizer gun and a pair of large handcuffs to capture the big guy. Only bears were caught. The doors have long since been welded shut.

Peggy and I drove up a pothole-strewn forest service road to the Shoofly Trailhead to begin our adventure. Just beyond a large parking area, the trail dropped quickly for a half mile or so to the Butte Fork of the Applegate River and then followed the creek uphill for 7-8 miles to Azalea Lake, which was our destination.  We made a leisurely trip of it, letting our time-tested bodies adjust to being on the trail again. At about five miles, they decided they’d done enough adjusting and went searching for a campsite. It was a wimpy thing to do, but our minds gave them leeway for being out on the trail at all. Following are some photos of what we took along the way.

The Butte Fork of the Applegate River is right where the Shoofly Trail meets up with the Butte Forks Trail. It makes for a wonderfully refreshing stop, either going or coming.

Another photo of Butte Fork Creek.

Portions of the Red Butte Wilderness resemble a rainforest. Other areas are quite dry.

Peggy and some of the large trees that live along Butte Fork Creek.

She holds up a sugar pine cone we found beside the trail.

An old cabin built by the Civilian Conservation Corp out of red cedar in the 1930s, still exists along the trail. For a while it was used by the forest service to house a forest fire fighting crew. Given its age, I decided to show it in black and white.

A view of Rattlesnake Mountain and Desolation Peak from the Butte Fork Trail.

There came a point, just under these trees next to a small stream, that our bodies decided it was time to camp. While I ranged far above and below the trail looking for a suitable campsite, Peggy found one nearby!

There was just enough space for our small tent.

It came with a bower…

A small reflecting pool with cool water…

And a pair of shelf fungus that seemed to want to talk.

I soon whipped up a quick dinner and we crawled into the tent as soon as the sun had dropped behind the canyon walls.

NEXT POST: We hike on to the pretty Azalea Lake and I (possibly) find proof of Bigfoot’s existence! (Peggy and I are off on another backpacking trip. I’ll respond to comments and check in on blogs when we return.)

 

Rocks Crawling with Snakes… The Three Rivers Petroglyph Site of New Mexico

There are lots of snakes found among the rocks at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site in New Mexico— rock art snakes. This is a rattlesnake. Check out the triangular, pit viper head. Also note that the break in the rock was used by the artist to provide a 3-D effect, which was a technique used frequently by Three Rivers artists..

Panamint Rattlesnake in Death Valley.

We found his cousin in the Panamint Mountains of Death Valley. Peggy took its photo out the window of our truck. I thought it would look great coiled up with its tail buzzing and was taking my seatbelt off when Peggy did some rattling of her own, buzzing up the road, thwarting my desire to get up close and personal.

 

Peggy and I have returned from another backpacking trip, a little sore but fine otherwise. We travelled through a gorgeous virgin forest near our home in mountains we can see from our patio. Giant trees including Red Cedar, White Pine, Sugar Pine and Douglas Fir provided shade. It’s Big Foot country and we kept a sharp lookout. And, indeed, we may have found some proof of the big fellow’s existence! Be sure to catch my next post. But for now, back to the snakes of the Three River’s Petroglyph Site.

 

Bad snakes have been giving good snakes a bum rap for eons. It all started when the Biblical Eve bit into the apple she had obtained from the proverbial snake in the tree and realized that she was naked. It must have been a shocking discovery. Snakes have been pummeled, stomped, cut up, diced, crushed, shot, speared and smashed ever since.

Actually, there is no such thing as a bad snake; there are only snakes that have had a bad childhood and will bite you if you step on them, or wake them up when they are sunbathing on their favorite rock, or lollygagging in a scummy pond. They don’t really mean to kill you; it’s a waste of good venom. Normally, we are too big to eat. Although there was that huge boa that lived in the lake next to my house in Liberia…

I’ve had numerous snake encounters over the years from the rainforests of West Africa to the rattlesnake country of the American West. Believe me when I say there is nothing like stepping on a log and having it come alive with the buzz of rattlesnakes. I once set an Olympic record for the standing long jump when that happened.

The Jornada Mogollon people of the Three Rivers Petroglyph site must have had a special relationship with snakes. There are numerous snake glyphs scattered throughout the area— and these are BIG snakes with BIG heads and jaws. “The better to bite you with my dear.” I suspect the snakes were considered sacred and worshipped, which is what the nearby Navajo and Hopi people did.

 

Another rattler. Obviously, the artist wanted to emphasize the business part of the snake— its head.

In one place, we found several snakes slithering down the rocks, which was a bit creepy-crawly!

Rattlesnakes aren’t the only poisonous denizens of the desert recorded by the petroglyphs found at Three Rivers. There are also spiders and scorpions. There was a good reason that cowboys of the Old West always shook out their boots in the morning before putting them on. On the more benign side of the equation, there are a number of rock art lizards.

For the record, Peggy and I always shake out our outdoor shoes before putting them on as well. We’ve never found a scorpion, but spiders are common, and lizards. Peggy once wore her boots for an hour wondering why her foot had developed a toe twitch. She took it off and a lizard hit the ground— running. It still may be.

Scorpions pack a considerable wallop in their tails. It’s best to keep out of their reach.

I’m assuming that this guy is a spider, although it could use some more legs. Artistic license, perhaps? Or maybe it’s a beetle.

We’ve found petroglyphs of lizards in almost every rock art site we have visited throughout the Southwest. This one came with a crooked tail.

This is one of our local lizards that live around our house and think of our shoes as a great place to hang out. It’s my last photo of the day.

 

NEXT POST: A Land of Forest Giants… And Bigfoot.

 

Buried Alive Under Three Feet of Snow… The Adventure Trek Series

The snow at Donner Summit this year hearkened back to earlier years when I spent a lot of time in the winter at Serene Lakes near the summit. California’s drought had gone, at least for this year, and deep snow had blanketed the mountains. Given that a fair amount had already melted, this late spring photo from Serene Lakes provides an idea of just how deep it had been.

 

I am trying to slip blogging in between my summer of backpacking adventures. It isn’t easy. Right now our guest bed is covered in gear as Peggy and I prepare to head out again. REI is beckoning: new hiking boots for Curt and walking poles for Peggy. I’ll post, catch up on blogs I follow, and respond to your comments between trips. Many thanks.

Today I will provide a break from my petroglyph series with another adventure trek tale, this time a cross-country ski trek. I took the photos I am featuring this May right after my trip to Carmel/Big Sur. All were taken in the area where we did a training trip for the trek.

 

This post takes us back in time to the early 1980s. A friend of mine and her family owned a cabin near Soda Springs on the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Donner Pass off of Interstate 80. The cabin was located close to a pair of small scenic lakes that Mark Twain had named Serena and Dulzura. Together, they were known as Ice Lakes. Between 1870 and 1927 they were harvested during the winter for their ice, which was then shipped to San Francisco via the nearby Central Pacific Railroad to keep things cool in an era before refrigeration.

Serene Lakes looking serene in mid-May. Much of the lake is still covered.

The development of the lakes as a resort area led real estate moguls to change the name to Serene Lakes, which isn’t surprising. Would you pay more for a home located on an ice lake or a serene lake?

I spent considerable time there in the winters. Some of the world’s deepest snow has been recorded in the region. In the winter of 1982, the cabin literally disappeared beneath a blanket of white. Getting into it involved climbing over a 20-foot embankment of snow and entering through the second story. Sometimes it would snow so hard that our vehicles would disappear overnight. We would stake them out with bamboo poles. This wasn’t so we could find them, however. It was to keep the huge snowplow with corkscrew blades from eating them for breakfast.

Imagine this Serene Lakes cabin buried under snow and you have an idea of just how deep the snow can get at Donner Summit.

Before John Slober created the Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski Area with its hundred plus miles of groomed trails next door, it was a great place for back-country wilderness skiing. We would strap on our skis at the cabin and disappear into the pristine wilderness, an absolute winter wonderland. We even tried winter camping. It’s an incredible experience but you have to be prepared for some unique challenges. The Sierras, which are friendly and forgiving in the summer, have minimal tolerance in the winter. Storms can sweep in with high winds and zero visibility. Hypothermia is always a lurking danger. Avalanches are a real possibility. There were no trails to follow, and no people. Naturally I loved it.

One of our favorite ski trips was following the Soda Springs Road, shown here, down to the American River. It was this wonderful downhill ski for several miles. The bad part came when we reached the bottom. We had to turn around and walk back up on our skis. Ski tracks can be seen in the snow.

I hiked down the road for a ways in May, remembering spring skiing in shorts and a T-shirt.

This is Red Fir country.

And Jeffrey Pine, as this pine cone attested to.

Serena Creek, still bearing Mark Twain’s name, flowed down the canyon beside Soda Springs road and cut a path through the still deep snow.

The rushing water reminded me why early season backpacking can be dangerous. This isn’t something you would cross. The metal looks like someone’s roof that had escaped.

Water from a small dam on Serena Creek was flowing over the spillway.

The lake behind the dam provided a reflection shot.

Serene Lakes provided another opportunity.

My enjoyable experience with backcountry skiing and winter camping meant that I had to create a 60-mile Cross-Country Ski Trek through the Desolation Wilderness so I could do more. If you have been following my blog, you will know that I had created the Trekking program as a fund-raiser for the American Lung Association so I could spend more time in the woods. I’d filled my summers with backpacking and bicycling but didn’t have an excuse for escaping in the winter.

My knowledge of winter camping was somewhat limited, unfortunately. I went out and bought lots of books. I also had the good sense to recruit two experts in winter camping from the National Nordic Ski Patrol, Paul and Diana Osterhues. It would be their job to provide us with training and leadership. They were very serious people. Smiling was not allowed until after we were aware of the dangers that faced us.

As part of our training we had to do an overnight trip. I volunteered the cabin as a starting point. Our group skied out about three miles through a thick fir forest with steep terrain to reach camp. We learned a lot. My first lesson was that when you fall over backwards in soft snow with a 60-pound pack on your back and long, skinny skis on your feet, it is difficult to get up. You develop instant empathy for turtles. As a kid, I had turned over a few and watched them struggle to roll over. Now it was my turn, a little Karma in action.

I also learned that heavy packs have minds of their own when it comes to negotiating downhill turns— especially if they are external frame packs, which is what I had at the time. I would zig and it would zag. Not good.  On one particularly steep, curvy hill, Paul and Diana planted themselves at the bottom to see which of us would crash. It was quite entertaining. I made it, but just barely and without grace.

Our problems were minimal in comparison to a woman on a later Alaska Ski Trek, however. She had to pee and went searching for the perfect hiding place. After selecting what she believed was a secure bush, she lowered her pants, squatted, and initiated the process. The only problem was that her skis were aimed downhill and decided to do a little skiing on their own, right down to where her friends were waiting. It was a very unique and cold way to get caught with your pants down.

Paul and Diana eventually got us to where we were supposed to camp and gave us assignments; we had to build emergency shelters to sleep in that night. Several Trekkers decided on building elaborate snow caves and a couple of guys with construction experience opted to create an igloo. I went for a trench on the theory that in a storm my objective would be to get out of the weather as quickly as possible. Although I don’t care for the analogy, my new home looked a lot like a grave. The snow shelter was seven feet long, three feet wide and four feet deep. It took me 15-minutes to complete. I topped it off with my ski poles, skis, and a ground cloth— and then got out my stove. Within 45 minutes of the time I arrived in camp, I was enjoying a hot cup of soup and hassling the folks who were making more elaborate shelters.

With the arrival of evening, we all disappeared into our various homes. Being outside in the dark and cold makes a warm down sleeping bag more attractive than an ice-cold spring in the desert. I blocked my entrance way with my backpack and shimmied into my mummy bag which was resting on an ensolite pad. After reading for about twenty minutes, I drifted off to sleep in my cozy little tomb. And it was cozy. Snow provides great insulation. Ask a Husky.

I didn’t wake up until the sun was providing a dim grey light the next morning. The first thing I noticed, besides being warm and cozy, was that my skis and ski poles were bent under what could only be a considerable amount of fresh snow. It didn’t take much imagination to picture the whole shebang falling in on top of me. It reminded me of my grave analogy. How do you put on clothes and shoes in such conditions? Carefully. Once dressed, I tentatively pushed on my door/backpack. Tentative didn’t work. So, I shoved with some of the emphasis one might use if he awakened to find himself buried alive. The pack and I emerged from under three feet of new snow. I felt like a reprieved ground-hog as I looked around and saw the bright sun beating down without a cloud in the sky.

There was no sign of anyone else. All 15 people had disappeared under the snow!

“Um, leaders,” I announced hopefully in a loud voice, “we may have a slight problem out here.” I wasn’t going to budge out of fear of falling in on top of someone.

“Mmmph, mmmph,” I heard in a muffled under-the-snow response. Then a head came bursting out of the snow about twenty feet away from my hole. Then another and another. If I’d had a foam rubber bat, I could have played whack-a-mole. Soon, everyone was accounted for and no one was hurt. We had all slept happily through the night. It was a great testimony for emergency snow shelters and great training for our ski trek.

Since I was in the area this past May, I decided to spend some more time wandering around with my camera. Following are some of the results.

Lake Van Norden, which is right next to Soda Springs, is no longer a lake. It was drained. But this year it looked like a lake to me! The mountains on the left are home to the Sugar Bowl Ski Resort.

Another photo. I liked the way the icy bank was reflected.

For those of you who like perspective shots, the Southern Pacific Railroad next to Soda Springs, provides one.

Historic Donner Summit is just a couple of miles up the road on old Highway 40— the Lincoln Highway, the first road to stretch all the way across America.

This historic photo on display at an overlook just below Donner Pass shows a car making its way over the pass circa 1929/30.

I don’t think Quivera, our small RV, would have liked the road, or fit. The backdrop is a peak bordering Donner Pass.

The Transcontinental Railroad, completed in 1869, crossed over Donner Summit before Highway 40. Snow sheds, the dark line you see, protect the railway from the heavy Sierra snows.

A historic photo of the Central Pacific Railroad, later to become the Southern Pacific.

The scenic overlook below Donner Pass, provides this view of Donner Lake. It was down at the far end that the Donner Party was caught in heavy snow in the winter of 1846-47 and resorted to cannibalism for survival. I started a couple of three-day bike treks from the park and told the Trekkers that their dinner on the first night was mystery meat stew.

Another photo taken from the same location in 1942. I wasn’t born yet but I may be in the photo. Can you spot me? The photo is my mother. She and my father were on their way back to Oregon after a quickie wedding in Reno. I’ve sometimes wondered if I was the reason for the hurried trip.

I found this plaque amusing, or make that a bit shocking. Read it through if you can and then let me know your thoughts on the last paragraph.

Not very clear, but definitely worth looking at, this photo shows wagons making their way over Donner Summit. The early pioneers were a hardy bunch!

And finally, this gorgeous bridge built in 1925 and located next to the scenic overlook, which is just off to the right.

Another view.

NEXT BLOG: I’ll return to the Three Rivers Petroglyph site and some rather slithery rock art.

 

This Post Is for the Birds… The Three Rivers Petroglyph Site of New Mexico: Part 4

A rather strange turkey you might note, with claws out, coming at you. It isn’t so strange if you’ve experienced it, as I did. I was taking close-ups of a hen’s chicks when she decided to discourage me by flying at me with claws aimed. She succeeded.

 

Peggy and I are on our way home from North Carolina today. We flew back to surprise our son, Tony, who was promoted to Lieutenant Commander for the Coast Guard in Charleston, South Carolina. While he teaches at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut overseeing cadets who want to fly for the Coastguard, he was visiting his In-laws in South Carolina and the Coast Guard arranged for the appointment ceremony to take place in Charleston.  

Today’s blog is for the birds, so to speak. I am featuring petroglyphs of birds we found at the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site in New Mexico. They ranged from eagles to turkeys.

It’s no wonder that the Jornada were impressed with eagles. I am. I took this photo of a Bald Eagle in Oregon.

Here’s his look-alike petroglyph at the Three Rivers’ Site.

The mighty eagle may have ruled the skies of southern New Mexico, but it was the Thunderbird that ruled the heavens. A flap of its wings would gather clouds and send thunder bouncing off the far mountains. Lightning would shoot out of its eyes. The Thunderbird existed in numerous Native American and First Nation cultures. Peggy and I have found images from New Mexico to Alaska.

This petroglyph of a Thunderbird is one of the most powerful petroglyphs I have seen.

Peggy and I found this totem pole Thunderbird on Vancouver Island, British Colombia. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Another example from Three Rivers.

It wasn’t surprising that we found a roadrunner petroglyph, the superfast, long-legged bird of the Southwest that is common in the desert and eats rattlesnakes for breakfast. Did you ever watch the Roadrunner-Coyote cartoons? I was addicted to it at UC Berkeley in the mid-60s. Cartoon time was mandatory break time! My fellow dorm residents and I would gather around the lone TV in our dormitory and cheer as Road Runner once again foiled Wile E. Coyote.

A roadrunner with its snake breakfast. I am also intrigued with the upside down animal above the roadrunner. I think it might be a peccary.

This sophisticated petroglyph looks a lot like a goose or duck to me. Note how the artist has used the contour of the rock to give body to the goose.

We also found petroglyphs of wild turkeys, the bird that Benjamin Franklin preferred over the eagle as a national symbol for America. These characters provide us with endless entertainment as they roar around in our backyard, chase each other, show off, and search for food. I suspect that the Jornada regarded them as a source of food.

Possibly a turkey head.

And a stick figure turkey!

I’ll finish today with this tom turkey strutting his stuff in our back yard. We’re always amused that the hens totally ignore the guys when they put on their shows, almost appearing bored. We’ve decided that the shows are to impress the competition.

NEXT POST: The slithery serpents of Three Rivers. Last week I blogged about my encounter with a Diamondback Rattler. This time I will focus on how the Jornada perceived snakes and lizards. There is even a rattlesnake!

 

Nice Kitty, But Why Is Your Tail Over Your Back… The Three Rivers Petroglyph Site: Part 3

There are several mountain lion petroglyphs at the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site. Each one has his tail bent up over his back. I don’t have a clue why. And what’s with the arrow?

 

Peggy and I are still out wandering. So this is my third post revisiting the Three Rivers’s Petroglyph Site in southern New Mexico.

Hunting wild animals for meat provided an essential source of food for the majority of mankind’s existence. While the Jornada Mogollon people at the Three Rivers’ Petroglyph site cultivated corn, hunting remained a vital activity.

Arrows can often be found sticking out of Big Horn Mountain Sheep in petroglyphs. They were a major source of food in the South West.

The Big Horn Sheep petroglyphs at Three Rivers were some of the most sophisticated I’ve seen. It’s rare to see bodies filled in.

A Big Horn head with geometric patterns.

I took this picture of a Big Horn ram in Nevada. He was wondering if he should object to his photo being taken.

Success meant learning as much as they could about the animals that inhabited their desert world: where they lived, what they ate, where they drank, and what trails they used were all important.  The Jornada were excellent trackers, able to read in a few scuffed tracks the story of who had wandered down a trail and what they were doing.

Tracking was a vital skill of Native Americans in hunting, or in being hunted. This was probably the track of a mountain lion.

Definitely human!

There was a close, almost sacred, relationship between the hunter and the hunted. Clans assumed animal names and young people went on vision quests to discover which animal might serve as personal guides. Shamans put on animal cloaks and assumed animal personalities. The gods and the spirits of animals were both honored. (It helped assure they would be around at dinner time.)

Not surprisingly, the petroglyphs found at Three Rivers reflect the importance of the various animals in the life of the Jornada. We discovered numerous bighorn sheep and an unexpected number of cougars. There were also horses, rabbits and coyotes. Horses provided a radical new form of transportation; coyotes were known for their trickery; and rabbits provided an easy food supply.

I featured this cougar in my last post. Again, note the tail over the back.

Another big cat with proud tail.

This cougar came up to sniff us at a wildlife sanctuary in southern Oregon. He looked quite friendly but it was one of those instances I was glad I was on the other side of the fence.

I suspect he would have liked to have had this rabbit in the enclosure with him. Everyone, it seems, likes to eat rabbits. They would have been another important food source for the Jornada.

These two long-eared Jack Rabbits (hares) stopped by our house for a visit a couple of weeks ago. They wanted to know if we had a coyote free zone. I couldn’t make any promises so they moved on.

The arrival of the Spaniards to the New World in the 1500s meant that the Jornada had a dramatic new form of transportation available.

I’ll finish up with this happy songster. (Or maybe it’s not so happy. That could be an arrow.) My next post on Three Rivers is for the birds.

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Bug Eyed Alien or Shamanistic Vision… The Rock Art of the Three Rivers’ Petroglyph Site: Part 2

This is one of my favorite petroglyphs from Three Rivers. It makes me want to say, BOO! So, is it a bug-eyed alien or a shamanistic vision?

 

Peggy and I are still off playing (details to come later), so I am continuing to revisit earlier posts I did on the Three Rivers’ Petroglyph National Recreational Site located in south central New Mexico.

A lot of guessing takes place in determining the meaning of rock art. Present day Native American myths and rituals provide some clues. Others can be deduced from the petroglyph itself. An antelope filled full of arrows relates to hunting, but is it a record of an actual event or a hopeful prediction of the future?

Today I am featuring petroglyphs from the Three Rivers site that represent humans and gods. Some look quite alien, while others appear quite human. It’s assumed that shamanistic activities and visions were often the inspiration behind petroglyphs. Or the inspiration might be as common (and dramatic) as a woman having a baby, which is reflected in a number of Three Rivers’ petroglyphs.

This petroglyph of a man struck me as quite realistic. Does he look like anyone you know?

This fellow is a bit further out. I am assuming he is a Shaman either exorcising a demon or having a bad trip. (Since no one can be sure of the actual meaning of rock art, you are free to speculate.) The circle surrounded by dots just below his chest, is thought to represent Datura, a powerful hallucinogen.

A sad fellow, I thought at first, given his downturned mouth. But then I noted the eyes. And are those cat whiskers on his cheeks?

Okay, scary.

A petroglyph of a woman in this position is usually assumed to be having a baby. She’s even screaming, or practicing deep breathing.

Here’s another example. A little empathy, please.

Often the figures are assumed to represent gods. This one could be corn.

This final photo is to prepare you for my next post where I will feature some of the wildlife of Three Rivers. This is a rather magnificent mountain lion.

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A Journey Back in Time to the Spectacular Three Rivers’ Petroglyph Site of New Mexico… Part 1

Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico.

Evening shadows, combining with a layer of clouds stretching along the Sacramento Mountains, provided an air of mystery for the Three Rivers’ Petroglyph Site of southern New Mexico. Peggy and I could hear coyotes on the hunt calling to each other in the valley below, a sound as old as humankind.

 

It’s tough when play gets in the way of blogging. Something has to give. Guess what? (grin) I had slated today for the beginning of my Native American rock art series. And so it shall be. But I was going to feature the trip we made a few days ago through the Lava Beds National Monument. There’s no time to produce it now; Peggy and I are on the road again. After all, we stayed home for five days. So, I am going to take you back in time to our visit of the Three Rivers’ Petroglyph Site of southern New Mexico. I know some of you traveled there with us. I think you will find the revisit worthwhile. For the rest of you, be prepared for a treat. I can’t think of a better place to begin an exploration of the rock art sites that are found scattered throughout the western United States.

Groups of petroglyphs found at Three Rivers Site, New Mexico.

Three Rivers is chock full of petroglyphs, made by ancient peoples using a rock to peck through desert varnish. Searching for rock art is like a treasure hunt. Sometimes you strike it rich and find a bunch in one location, like this. How many can you find among the rocks here?

Peggy and I have been visiting rock art sites throughout the Southwestern United States for the past 19 years. The Three Rivers’ site is one of our favorites. Some 21,000 petroglyphs featuring everything from people to bugs are spread out over 50 acres. Created by the Jornada Mogollon people of the Chihuahuan Desert, the glyphs were pecked into rock using stone tools for a period of over 500 years starting in 900 AD.

This is wide-open country, set off by dramatic mountains. Within a hundred miles of Three Rivers, Billy the Kid fought in the Lincoln County Wars, Smokey the Bear was found hidden in a tree avoiding a forest fire, bug-eyed aliens became synonymous with Roswell, and history was forever changed with the explosion of the world’s first atomic bomb.

Three Rivers Petroglyph site in southern New Mexico with Sacramento Mountains providing the backdrop.

Native Americans often chose cliff areas such as those on the left for their rock art. Peggy and I have spent a lot of time scrambling around on such cliffs.

I rode through the area on my bicycle as part of my ten-thousand-mile trek around North America. It’s a long way between pit stops. The remoteness of the area is reflected well in the photo above.

Native Americans often chose special sites for their rock art and it is immediately apparent that the Three Rivers site is special. The words raw beauty come to mind. Set on a ridge, the site provides commanding views of the surrounding desert and mountains. Today, I am featuring the natural beauty of the region. In my next posts, I will focus on petroglyphs of people, animals, birds, geometric designs, animal tracks, reptiles, bugs and anything else that caught the fancy of the Jornada people, and us– including a whale and a mysterious ship.

Peggy stands on the ridge next to a rock likely to hold petroglyphs. Some glyphs are immediately obvious while others are hidden. Sharp eyes are required. And you need to hike around the whole rock.

Three Rivers Petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

A final view of the remote, mysterious area. I’m always on the lookout for UFOs!

NEXT BLOG: I will look at glyphs that feature the Jornada Mogollon people and their gods. Below is an example.

Petroglyph from Three Rivers Petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

…An abstract geometric design with eyes. Another reason I scan the skies for aliens!

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An Ugly Pit Viper Drops by for a Visit… Let’s go backpacking: Part 2

I heard a noise and looked up. A Diamondback Rattlesnake had come to visit.

 

Today’s post finds me out on a backpacking trip I went on last week. Friday’s post introduced the trip and took me off into the woods by myself.

 

I decided to remain camping where I was and go day hiking. That way I could explore the surrounding area early in the morning and late in the afternoon, while hiding out under a shade tree during the hottest part of the day. I had a number to choose from including incense cedars, ponderosa pines, white firs, and lodgepole pines. There was even a large sugar pine in the neighborhood with its 18-inch-long cones.

The Sugar Pine.

Staying in the shade involved moving as the sun made its way across the sky. This was a good thing; it forced me to get up every so often.

I create a very comfortable nest for myself in the woods, the type I can snuggle down in and read a good book, or write, or prepare a quick snack, meal or cup of coffee. My ‘kitchen’ is always on my right; my ‘living room’ and ‘office’ on the left. The Therm-a-Rest mattress converts to a chair and my backpack forms a great back rest. Everything is easily reachable from where I sit. Moving’s a bit of a bother (grin). It involves two trips and about five minutes to transfer everything. I quickly establish which trees provide the best shade and breeze for the time of the day.

Here’s my home away from home in the woods. Everything I need from entertainment and food to water and mosquito repellent is conveniently located. My clothes bag in the front rests behind my knees and adds comfort. My journal is resting on my chair.

I was in my five o’clock spot under a lodgepole pine when a movement caught my eye. I looked up from my Baldacci book and saw a Diamondback Rattlesnake slithering toward my tree through the pine needles. An ugly pit viper had dropped by for a visit! Keeping a close eye on my guest, I quickly pulled out my camera. The Diamondback kept coming. When it was about 10 feet away I said, “Ahem, Ms. Snake, do you see me? Do you even have a clue I am here?” (It might have been a male, but how in the heck do you tell the sex of a snake? I looked it up, actually, since I knew you would want to know. Male snakes have a couple of tiny penises under the skin inside their cloacal opening (vent under their tail.) You shove a snake probe up there. It goes up farther for a male than a female. Now you are an expert. I don’t think my snake would have cooperated.)

Ms. Snake came to visit me when I was sitting under one of the Lodgepole pines behind my tent.

The rattlesnake was close to four feet long and had ten rattles which suggested she was around five-years old. Note the triangular-shaped head that is typical of pit vipers.

She stopped abruptly as her neck and head rose into the air. Out came a forked tongue. Her spade shaped, pit viper head and yellow-slit eyes pointed in my direction, checking me out, fangs poised for action. Who or what had invaded her territory? Was I food or foe? Heat seeking facial pits that work something like infrared detectors determined that I was too big to eat and might be trouble. So, she started slipping off to the right. Naturally I had to get up and follow. (This is where Peggy normally urges me to do something else, anything else, but she wasn’t along.)

She raised her head and checked me out.

I walked a respectful few feet behind. You never want to get within striking distance. The Diamondback is responsible for the majority of snake bites in the US and its toxin loaded injection can be fatal. The snake kept twisting her head back Linda Blair-like, watching me. Her rattles were pointed up, ready to explode into the loud buzzing sound rattlers are famed and named for. Twice she almost coiled. I could have forced the issue— it makes for a great photo-op. A timely prod with a stick would have had her coiling and buzzing in a flash. But I figured she wasn’t bothering me so I wouldn’t bother her. At least not much. Finally, she slipped off into some brush and waved goodbye with her tail. I wished her good hunting. I think I heard something like “fat, juicy mouse.”

Her rattles were pointed up in the air, ready to start buzzing. The circles on the tail and diamond shapes above them identified the rattlesnake as a Diamondback. The pinecones are from a Lodgepole Pine.

While I wasn’t particularly bothered by the visit, I did move to a different shade tree on the other side of camp. Had Ms. Snake returned, she would have slipped up behind me. I was also more careful about watching where I stepped! Immediately afterwards, I called Peggy and related the story. She laughed. She knows my ways. Or maybe she was laughing from relief that I hadn’t been bitten.

Speaking of ‘my ways,’ one was that I would never carry a cell phone while backpacking. It was more or less written in granite. I go to the woods for tranquility, not the hustle, stress, incessant noise and constant connectedness of modern society. And nothing represents that more than cell phones. And yet, here I was with cell phone in hand. There was even a decent signal from a cell tower on I-80. My decision to break with my long-standing tradition was something of a compromise for my wife. Not many 74-year-olds go wandering off by themselves backpacking. In fact, the number of people who backpack alone at any age is limited to a relatively few adventuresome souls. Peggy is 100% supportive of my backpacking, even when I ramble off alone. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t concerned. My checking in on a daily basis— and being able to check in, if needed, in an emergency— helped allay her worries.

Cell phone service isn’t a given in the wilderness, however, especially in the US where profitability plays an important role in determining where service is offered.  So, I went one step further. I picked up an emergency Gen 3 GPS tracking device named Spot. It’s kind of like Spot, the family dog of Dick and Jane repute, or Lassie, if you will, able to track me down when necessary. But all I have to do with the Gen 3 is hit an SOS button and it immediately sends out a message to local rescue groups that gives my exact location and the fact that I am in a dire emergency situation. Help’s supposed to be on the way within the hour.

There were other steps I took as well— carrying trekking poles, for example. They cut down on wear and tear on the knees and add a degree of balance. More importantly, I did everything I could, minus eliminating my creature comforts, to reduce weight. Modern equipment makes a huge difference. When I first started packing in the late 60s, my pack for a week trip was normally in the neighborhood of 55-60 pounds. By the 90s it was 45-50 pounds. Now it is down to 35-40 pounds.

This is a photo of what I was carrying on my trip. Everything is organized in bags. So there is a kitchen bag, a bathroom bag, a ten essentials bag, etc. Each bag has its place in my pack which is organized for access and weight distribution.

Here’s my stove ready for packing, which will give you an idea on how compact and light backpacking gear is today.

Everything I carry is designed to reduce weight. A plastic spoon, bowl and cup are my dishes. I’ve been carrying the insulated cup for over 40 years. Once it was lost beneath 20 feet of snow. I found it when the snow melted.

Here’s another example of going light. This is my neckerchief, handkerchief, and topographic map. It also serves as an air conditioner! On a hot day, I dip it in a stream and wrap it around my neck.

There is great beauty in the wilderness, if you are willing to slow down and look around. It ranges from expansive vistas down to plants, rocks, and wildlife.  Following are some more photos that reflect what I saw this past week. Enjoy.

Fordyce Creek was a half mile away from where I was camped and filled with snowmelt. The hiking bridge provided a way across the otherwise unfordable creek.

I captured this photo from the bridge. One of the challenges of backpacking early in the season is the amount of water flowing in the streams. Great caution is required when no bridges are available, which is usually the case in the Sierras. It is best to cross early in the morning before the sun begins to melt the snow.

The broken side-boards on the bridge made me wonder about its overall condition!

Thunderheads provided a dramatic backdrop but threatened a thunder and lightning storm. All of my gear was packed away in my tent, just in case.

These circling clouds would have made me think ‘tornado’ had I been in the Midwest or South. BTW… all I had was a few drops of rain with no thunder or lightning.

A small reflection lake was located a hundred yards from my camp. It came with its own water snake. The snake didn’t cooperate for a photo shoot, however.

I’ll close today’s post with this photo that provides a perspective on the size of the lake. Glaciers once worked their way through this portion of the Sierras, carving hundreds of such lakes from small to large.

NEXT POST: Native American rock art at Lava Beds National Monument in Northern California that dates back over 4000 years.

 

Goatsuckers in the Night… Let’s Go Backpacking! Part 1

Putting a pack on my back makes me happy. It means I am heading out for another wilderness adventure. This gorgeous Incense Cedar graced my camp and became the subject of many photos. Incense Cedars are normally found around the 4-5 thousand foot level in the northern Sierras.

 

I’ve been out on a solo backpack trip this past week at the 5000-foot level in the Sierra Nevada Mountains north of Interstate 80, about half way between Sacramento and Reno. Peggy drove me up from Sacramento where she was spending time with her 96-year-old mother.

 

I first started backpacking 48 years ago. Peggy caught this photo as I was prepared to head out on last Sunday.

It was time. Peggy took out her camera for a couple of photos, I shouldered my backpack, waved goodbye, and headed down the jeep road that led to Eagle Lakes. Since it was Sunday, most of the four-wheel enthusiasts were coming out, joyously running their vehicles up and over treacherous rock piles and though waist-deep mud holes. It’s not my thing, but I admire the people who are passionate about the sport. I was raised in El Dorado County, California, home to the granddaddy of all four-wheeling events, the Jeepers Jamboree. Mark Smith created the event in 1953 and it is still going strong.

Does this look like a road to you? It’s the type of challenge that gets a four-wheeler’s heart racing— one they dream of and are long after telling tales about.

I placed my trekking pole on the road to provide a perspective. Yes, jeepers drive over this! As for the dark stain you see, think oil pan…

A series of four-wheel clubs help maintain this road and the camping areas. Most of these groups have a fairly strong wilderness ethic. I thought that the Madhatters was the most entertaining name.

They even carry out their poop!

My goal wasn’t to hike the jeep road, however. It was to hike beyond the jeep road and beyond the numerous four-wheelers who were out for a weekend drive or camping trip. Actually, it wasn’t hard. All I needed to do was to travel a couple of miles past where the jeep road ended. Whereas, four-wheeling isn’t my sport, hiking and backpacking aren’t sports for most four-wheelers. I found a delightful spot and only saw four people while I was there: two hikers and two mountain bikers. One of the hikers, a good Christian fellow, even stopped to bless me… and Peggy… and our children… and our grandchildren… and any pets we happened to own. I was beginning to wonder if he would ever stop, but finally, he ran out of breath. I quickly thanked him and he happily went on his way— his job done.

I didn’t travel particularly far, but it was an adventure for me. I wanted to see how my ‘senior’ body would handle the trip. I’ve been backpacking for 48 years and have several thousand trail miles behind me from the tundra to the tropics, so it isn’t like I’m inexperienced. Mentally, I was ready to go. More than ready. But would the knees, and the hips, and the back, and miscellaneous other body parts agree? Well, I am here to report that they whined a bit. In fact, they whined a lot. They always do on the first outing of the year. But they also knew that whining alone wouldn’t get them back to the easy chair they love so much. I hiked along at 2 to 2 ½ miles per hour, which is a good pace for backpacking in the mountains, and eventually, they shut up.

I was one tired puppy when I found a place to camp, however. I unpacked, set up my kitchen, cooked my gourmet dinner (i.e. boiled water and poured it onto freeze-dried food), put up my tent, and anxiously waited for the sun to go down. I was ready to climb into my sleeping bag. Unfortunately, the longest day in the year (for those of us who live north of the Equator) was only a day away, and the sun didn’t want to cooperate. It lingered until 9:00. There was ample time for the ants, and flies, and mosquitoes, and several other biting bugs to enjoy the fortuitous feast that had arrived in their tiny corner of the universe. And feast they did, apparently giving me an allergic reaction. I sneezed and sneezed and sneezed and sneezed. My nose ran so fast that I had to put on my running shoes to catch up. I was still sneezing when the sun miraculously went down and I crawled into my tent, removing three large ants who had missed out on dinner.

I amused myself while waiting for the sun to set by wandering around taking photos. This was the pond I camped next to.

Lily pads came close to covering the water. This shot reminded me of the work done by the Impressionist painters. Monet would have had his brush out.

Old Man Mountain loomed above me, a reminder that much of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is composed of granite.

This was my view looking up when I arrived and cooked dinner.

The same view later. It was just about bed time!

I walked out to check out the sunset…

And enjoyed the reflection in the pond.

There was no climbing into my sleeping bag, however. It was too damned hot. When Peggy and I had left Sacramento for our 60-mile drive into the mountains, the thermometer was pushing 109 degrees. It was cooler in the Sierras, but still in the 90s. Hiking in the heat was part of the reason I was so bushed. And now, along with the incessant sneezing, it was keeping me awake. I laid there in my altogether on top of my Therm-a-Rest mattress, took an antihistamine, and waited. Finally, things calmed and cooled down. I began to doze off. That’s when the other shoe dropped. The thousand frogs (slight exaggeration) that lived in the shallow lake next to where I was camping began to croak, all at once. I’d just managed to tune them out when the Goatsucker flew over.

Goatsucker? Was I beginning to lose it? Not exactly. For those of you who aren’t card carrying members of the Audubon Society, goatsuckers are members of a fairly large, noisy family of night birds. Whip-poor-wills are an example. My particular nemesis wasn’t a Whip-poor-will with its mournful all-night jabber, though, it was a Nighthawk, who had his own unique way of making noise. You can tell they are in the neighborhood when you hear their distinct “peent, peent” calls, but that’s only the beginning. In order to win their lady-love’s favor, the males climb high into the sky, close their wings and dive bomb the objects of their affection. Just as they reach the females, they open their wings. The wind rushing through their primary feathers makes a loud bloop sound. The bigger the boy, the louder the bloop. Apparently, it turns the girls on.

As to how the family obtained the name goatsucker, there’s an interesting story that goes way back in time to Europe. It starts with the fact that the birds have tiny beaks that open up to huge mouths they use for catching insects. In Europe, they liked to hang about around smelly goats at night that attracted lots of bugs. But the Europeans believed that the birds had a more nefarious purpose in mind. They believed that they were using their large mouths to grab hold of the nanny goats’ teats and suck them dry. Here’s what Pliny, the Roman Elder, had to say about them in 71 CE. (1601 CE interpretation.)

The Caprimulgi (so called of milking goats) are like the bigger kind of Owsels. They bee night-theeves; for all the day long they see not. Their manner is to come into the goat-pens, and to the goats udders presently they goe, and suck the milke at their teats. And looke what udder is so milked, it giveth no more milke, but misliketh and falleth away afterwards, and the goats become blind withall.

They were bad birds indeed. Not only did they steal nanny’s milk; her teats fell off and she went blind as well. Anyway, with this thought in mind I eventually fell asleep to the sounds of nature: croak, croak, peent, peent, BLOOP!

In my walk-about after dinner, I discovered that the Incense Cedar I featured at the top of the post was actually two trees. Fire, possibly set by lightning, had burned out the space between the twins.

I shot up the trunks for a different perspective.

I’ll conclude today’s post with a picture of the twin cedars being caught in the early morning sun the next day.

NEXT POST: Let’s go backpacking: Part 2… An ugly pit viper comes slithering into my kitchen.

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What to Do When Attacked by a Herd of Elk… Play Ape

Peggy photographed this herd of elk near the Redwoods last year.

Since I am off backpacking by myself in the wilderness, I thought I would repost a blog from when I was off on another solo adventure. This time I was heading into the Gila Wilderness next to Cliff Dwellings National Monument in southern New Mexico. I had just returned from Alaska and was taking six months off to backpack in the West.

Where I was going backpacking in the Gila Wilderness was something of a mystery to me. I didn’t have a clue.

My pack was loaded with a week’s worth of food and six topographic maps, more than enough to let me wander wherever I wanted and hopefully avoid getting lost. I had started off up the West Fork of the Gila River in the Cliff Dwellings National Monument but soon came across a trail jogging out of the canyon to the right.

Looks good to me, I thought to myself and started climbing. I was determined that wherever I went for the week would be based on random decisions. So much of my wilderness experience had involved leading groups or scouting out potential routes for organized trips that the sense of abandon felt delicious.

Consequently, years later, it isn’t exactly clear to me where I went. I was more than happy to hike 4 to 5 miles in one direction and then 6 or 7 in another. The only thing I tried to avoid was backtracking. I do remember wandering through Woodland Park and Lilly Park as well as climbing in and out of several canyons.

I had brought along two science fiction books for evening and early morning entertainment. Southern New Mexico is UFO Country. I was also carrying my usual field ID book and one serious read, Aldo Leopold’s “Sand Country Almanac.” Leopold had been responsible for the creation of the Gila Wilderness in 1924, making it the first specifically designated wilderness area in the United States, and, I might add, the world. People who love wild country and understand its intrinsic value owe a great debt to the man for his vision. I had read the book before but reading it again in the Gila Wilderness added a special significance.

I declared a layover day so I could savor it all at once. I was camped on a small stream located in a minor canyon and hadn’t seen a soul for four days. It was the perfect setting for getting lost in a book.

At some time in the early afternoon, a loud “Woooeee” shattered the silence.

Big Bird, I thought to myself. Big Bird on steroids. Aldo Leopold would have been up in a flash to discover the source. Of course, he would have had his rifle with him. He was quite the hunter. As usual, my only weapon was a dull three-inch pocketknife. Still, the mountain man in me demanded I get off my lazy tail and go exploring. I grabbed my binoculars and climbed out of the canyon. I was greeted by a broad, flat expanse of Ponderosa Pines but no Big Bird. “Woooeee,” I heard receding into the distance.  I put on my stalking cap and begin to sneak through the forest.

“Woooeee!” Big Bird shouted behind me. I whirled around only to catch a glimpse of something disappearing behind a bush. Big Bird it wasn’t. Nor was it the ghost of Geronimo, whose territory I was wandering through. It looked suspiciously like a cow elk that had morphed from stalkee to stalker. I wasn’t sure that I liked my new role but decided to play along.

“Woooeee,” I called out and jumped behind a Ponderosa.

“Woooeee,” I heard a delayed three minutes later. I stepped into the open to discover that my female companion had come out from behind her bush and was staring intently at my tree.

“Woooeee,” I shouted at her as she once again disappeared. We had a game. A cow elk was wooing me.

Years earlier I had discovered that much of the higher animal kingdom is quite curious about humans that don’t act like humans. I once had a similar experience to my elk chat with a coyote on the American River Parkway in Sacramento. First I would hide and then he would hide. Finally, out of frustration, the coyote plopped down in the middle of the trail, raised its head, and began howling. I plopped down in the trail as well, raised my head and joined him. We had quite the discussion.

The elk and I continued our game for about 15 minutes when I changed the rules. I sat down in plain sight with my back against the tree. Instead of hiding, she stood watching me for several minutes. I could tell the wheels were grinding away in her mind.

Suddenly she charged. I didn’t move from my seat but my adrenalin cranked up several notches. She was all of 10 feet away when she slammed on her brakes, lowered her head, stared me in the eye, and woooeeed again. Half fascinated and half frightened, I didn’t budge. Several hundred pounds of frustrated female were looming over me. I had zero doubt that she could kick the stuffing out of me. She held my gaze, snorted in disgust, shook her head, and trotted off.

While smaller than the bull elk, there is nothing puny about the females. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Whatever conversation we had been having was over. I breathed a sigh of relief and returned to camp. My first chore was to get out my guidebook. Female elks, it noted, can become rather aggressive and dangerous in the spring when they have calves. I’d been both ignorant and lucky.

After dinner, I went for my evening walk following an animal path that ambled along beside the creek. I heard a snort and looked up. Five elk were standing on the canyon rim staring down at me. The old girl had recruited some buddies to check out the weird human.  Unfortunately, this time I knew enough to be worried. I was an intruder in their territory, a possible threat to their precious babies.

My worry level turned to panic when all five came charging down the canyon wall. One moose had been scary; now I had the whole damn thundering herd! Running was out of the question. Think, Curtis, went dashing through my brain. The only thing I could dredge up was something I had fantasized I might do if charged by a grizzly bear in the wilds of Alaska. I started jumping up and down, scratching my armpits, pounding on my chest, and screaming ooh, ooh, ooh! It worked for great apes, why not me.

For the second time that day, I heard the screeching of elk brakes. This time there was no standing and staring, however. The herd turned as one and charged back over the canyon rim, disappearing into the night. Somewhat satisfied with myself, I returned to camp and the security of my tent.

I wandered around for another two days, keeping an eye out for UFO’s, steering clear of cow elk, and visiting sites where this or that pioneer had been killed by Apaches. The pioneers also did a pretty good job of killing off each other, not to mention the Indians. With my food running low, I finally ceased my wandering ways and hiked back to the National Monument.

NEXT BLOG: A beaver comes to visit in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming.

Note: I am still out backpacking and will respond to comments when I return.

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